Wednesday, 10 January 2018

The end of the first week

The Safari has been busy out and about this week enjoying the local wildlife when wind and rain have permitted. To be honest we expected to be doing much more writing now we're retired but we note we've only writted 20 blog posts since the end of September whereas we reckoned we'd be doing at least three a week.
Mostly we've been trying to keep our Photo Year Bird Challenge YBPC) ticking over, it's going OK but we have some missions to accomplish as this year's pics are supposed to be better or different to last year's so we haven't added some species we could easily have got yet. We're up to 28 species but the front runner has already snapped a substantial lead on 84.
A sunny but crisp wintry morning was spent in Stanley Park. Down at the boat house a plethora of pigeons wait for someone to arrive with bread or grain for the ducks and swans.
And once someone is identified as having food down they swoop.
Feral pigeon
Passing by the lake there were plenty of gulls on the rail and many more stood on the frozen ice. The light was against us so we didn't point the camera at them. As far as we could tell there wasn't anything out of the ordinary lurking in the flock. 
One of our main targets for the day was the pair of Ring Necked Parakeets which are proving very popular with the local birdarazzi. When we arrived at their tree there was only one on view and we were looking right up it's **** as it sat high in the treetop twiggery. We'd have to have a walk round and come back later and hope for a better view. First stop on our circuit of the lake was the feeders several kindly souls keep topped up. We got great very close views of Blue Tits, Great Tits, a too quick for our camera Coal Tit and a couple of Nuthatches.
 As we drove past earlier we'd seen a Heron sat on one of the nests, this was one of those 'different' pics we hope to get for our YBPC but unfortunately it wasn't there by the time we'd walked round - never mind there'll be plenty of opportunities in the coming weeks. Crossing the bridges we saw several cameras pointing upwards beneath THE tree so we assumed (you really shouldn't assume anything unless told to in a maths or physics exam) that the main event was occurring...and we weren't wrong. The pair of Ring Necked Parakeets were doing some canoodling at the entrance to an old Great Spotted Woodpecker's nest hole.
After a while the male flew off leaving the female to make some essential modifications to the nest hole.

After filling our boots and memory card with parakeet pics we went round to the far side of the lake so that the sun would be over our shoulder when giving the gulls a good old peruse. There were a lot, mostly Black Headed Gulls and Herring Gulls but also a few Common Gulls too.
Common Gull
 At the parakeet's tree it had been almost tropical, warm in the sunshine out of the breeze but here although were we in the sun there was an icy wind whipping across the frozen lake. From the tropics to the Arctic in no more than 200 yards! Although it was cold the heavier Herring Gulls were having trouble on the thin ice as the sun warmed it and several were seen to fall through by just standing laughing matter but still quite amusing in a You've Been Framed misfortune kinda way.
Gee that water's cold!
Never mind - someone's got chicken!!!
Back at the pigeon squabble we got half decent pics of Moorhen and Coot for our YBPC although both are remarkably similar to last years pics, the Moorhen is deffo of a seriously better quality though.
We had a look for any colour ringed Coots but didn't find any, it could well be that all those that were blinged up a few years ago have now died or moved on - we'll keep checking though just in case one reappears.
The following day we were out on shopping errands with Wifey and at the end of them decided to give Monty, who'd been in the car with us all afternoon, a bit of a leg stretch along the North Blackpool Pond Trail. It was getting dark and there were a few Blackbirds going to roost and with them at least a couple of Redwings so we made a point of returning the following day in day time to see if we could find them. We thought they might be in the horse field searching for worms but unfortunately they weren't although a couple of Herons and a pair of Mistle Thrushes were, all too far away to consider taking a pic.
Further on at the first pond there was a Little Egret sitting in the bankside Hawthorn bushes!
And we'd only walked that way to check out the House Sparrows we'd heard calling from the bushes on the near side of the pond.
A look around the Community Orchard section of the trail had us looking up to see if we could see the singing Song Thrush and found a cracking 'Face in a Tree' instead. if the right hand branch hadn't been broken off it might have looked like some bizarre kind of horned Viking helmet/mask...OK OK we know the Vikings didn't really have horns on their helmets.
The next day saw us take another visit to Marton Mere. Again it was quite crisp. We had two main targets in mind, either or both of the two Bitterns would have done nicely and a little later chatting in the hide we learned there are now three on site, excellent news! The other target was that Iceland Gull for a better pic in glorious sunshine. It wasn't to be, we missed a Bittern sitting out in the open within range (just!) by five minutes and the Iceland Gull didn't show. Never mind it was still a pleasant wander around and we heard the Bullfinch again but couldn't find it in the depths of the dense scrub. We've been beaten to the best Bullfinch pic taken at Marton Mere by JH although his perfectly focused pic is of a female slightly obscured by twiggery so we still have the 'best' pic of a male.
Great Black Backed Gull
Tufted Ducks
The hide also gave us the opportunity to get a rather different and more interesting pic of a Moorhen when one came out of the reeds, strode up the grassy bank and shooed a Woodpigeon off the bird table, shame it was in the shade of the hide but hey it's not something you see every day.
There are several small patches of Teasel scattered along the path through the reserve and often we find we flush a group of Goldfinches off one of them before we've realised we ought to have stopped to check them out first. Today we did remember to stop at one and struck gold(finch), shame we were being dragged a bit by Monty who'd managed to wrap his lead round our legs in the manner of an Argentinian cowboy's bolas so it's not as pin sharp as we'd hoped...plenty of tie for an improvement but will we strike gold(finch) again?
Goldfinch on the obligatory Teasel head
As we were just about to leave a Kestrel swooped in to view just above tree top height and began to hover - excellent!
And almost back at the car a trackside Robin posed very nicely for us - thank you very much we'll take that one.
Today we had to wait in in the morning for a delivery, that didn't bother us too much but Monty who likes to be on the road as soon after 09.00 was climbing us like the north face of the Eiger. We had a plan for the afternoon and late morning the sun began to come out and lifted our spirits - the plan might just work!
We headed down to the beach and in the distance saw SD pointing his camera at the sea wall so we were in luck the recent Purple Sandpipers were likely still there.
We wound our way round to him keeping well out on the beach and giving Monty a good play with his ball so that he's be at least a little tired and less lively when we approached closer. S told us there were four Purple Sandpipers present and we immediately got on two together. The sun had gone in again by now and a thick sea mist was rolling in from the north west on the light wind so it was back up to ISO Stupid for our pics, not quite Iceland Gull Stupid but not far off. The other day CR told us he'd never dared push his camera to such giddy ISO heights in case it exploded but needs must when the devil (or Monika) drives, so we fired off a few shots and left them to their Barnacles in the hope that one afternoon when the tide is out it'll be sunny too and they won't have left for more northern climes.
With the tide on the turn it was time to leave the beach so we headed back to the slipway where in a large runnel we saw a fairly distant Redshank working its way towards us. Now if we sit down and stay still and hope Monty does too it'll walk right past us in a few minutes and barely 20 yards away - and so it did
And as soon as it reached the closest point Monty, who had been watching its progress intently, made a lunge for it. his lead was as short as it goes but his sudden jolt upright to four legs flushed it which wasn't good as the birds need to rest and feed as much as possible without being disturbed during low tide.
So where does all that leave us?
Well we're only really visiting Patch 1 in the dark of pre-dawn at the moment so that's not doing brilliantly with just 13 species recorded
The garden at Base Camp has been far better watched but has been an absolute dead loss with only seven species seen and most of those have been fly-overs. Really hope it picks up before the Big Garden Bird Count at the end of the month - if you've never done it before sign up and join in one of the world's biggest citizen science projects.
We're doing pretty well at Marton Mere, our target is 100 species there this year and so far we've made a good start and got to 39.
The Purple Sandpipers brought our overall year list to a rather meagre 56 of which we've taken pics for our YBPC of exactly half at 28 although we halve declined the opportunity to take pics of at least half as many again by being more discerning and wanting to wait for THE we're not that fussy come the end of June when it's all gone horribly wrong and we're missing loads we should have got by then!
Where to next? Probably back to Marton Mere tomorrow and then perhaps a safari further afield on Friday, but to where???
In the meantime let us know who's enjoying the tropical winter sunshine in your outback

Tuesday, 2 January 2018

One out one new one in

The Safari joined our long time birding chums south of the river for a wintry day ornithologising at Martin Mere WWT reserve the other day. We started off at their new fully glazed hide to get a bit of warmth in our bones before we ventured out in to the wild wet weather.
The problem with a fully glazed hide is that while it may be more comfortable it does make you a bit queasy when looking through the bins at an angle through the glass and isn't that good for pics either, although we could have been anti-social and gone and sat in the end wing with normal opening viewing slats but this was a holiday get-together with the gang not a full blown twitching expedition.
There was the usual fine selection of winter wildfowl in good numbers...except for Pochards which are hugely down on recent years...such a shame as they are a splendid looking bird.
Many species of diving birds from a variety of Families have that red iris so it must have some evolutionary advantage for seeing in murky water.
Also close by were a handful of Ruffs and as AB noted - phoaarr look at the chiseled scapulars on that!
One of our favourite hides here is the Feeding Station where the stars of the show are the 'Bare Tailed Ground Monkeys' of which there were three today, two females and a juvenile. The sit under the feeders while bits dropped/discarded by the birds rain down like manna from heaven - life couldn't be easier. Having said that one of the adults had a huge open wound on its back possibly from a lucky escape from the Buzzard that arrived in a nearby tree and was eyeing them up.
The arrival of the Buzzard sent all the small birds scattering for cover except this Great Spotted Woodpecker which froze in the 'you can't see me - I'm not here' pose, a bit hopeful really!
The Brown Rats shuffled on in the mud unperturbed by the raptor's presence. After it had left and before the small birds returned one of them climbed up the logs at the base of the feeders 
it then made a leap of faith towards the bird table but that turned into a leap of doom when the jump failed to reach the table and the poor animal nosedived onto the squidgy mud below. 
More excitement was seen there when a Moorhen inexplicably flew about 10 feet up into a tree, unfortunately it was badly obscured so we were unable to get photographic proof of this somewhat unusual event.
Moving on between rain showers we had a look from the next hide which was pretty quiet and then narrowly missed a soaking getting to the final hide. Here we had splendid elevated views of the wetland and watched a Marsh Harrier quartering over the fields in the distance. While watching that a small bird of prey shot through and landed on a fence post in the distance. A Merlin (YBC #168). It was just about in range in the grotty weather - why can't these birds do us a favour and sit on the nearest post when the light is awful?
By now it was lunchtime and while some of the gang enjoyed the delights of the cafe those who'd brought butties sat in the foyer overlooking the 'captives' lake. Again we were shooting through a window but it's good to see some species in close-up detail that we don't see often and when we do they are a mile away across a field in the scope.
White Fronted Goose
After lunch we back out on the trail heading the other way this time. The first hide after the new hide is a windowed and heated affair nice but not good for venturing in to the cold afterwards. From here we added a female Goldeneye to the day's list, it took us ages to spot it as it spent most of it's time under water. As it's name suggest it doesn't have a red eye like the Pochards but if you're a diving bird and not got a red eye then golden yellow is the next most popular colour.
The next small hide is another favourite offering exceptional views of everybody's favourite birds, Coots and Moorhens - and if they aren't your favourite they ought to be! Today they were sadly lacking in close up views but a Little Egret wasn't. It walked out of a ditch and sat on the bank in the wind for several minutes before having a big old yawn - it's not often you get a good view of a Little Egret's tongue!
Next up the elevated Kingfisher Hide, normally noted for its big open panoramic-windowed freezingness but today strangely rather mild in there. Stars of the show were up to 19 of the once common Tree Sparrows at the feeders but there was a no-show from the Brambling that had been reported in recent days.
By the time we reached the final hide the light was going. Try as we might we couldn't find the Green Winged Teal in with the flocks of 'normal' Teal.
Watching a Whooper Swan on its way to its maker was a little macabre but why was it it that strange position propping itself up at an angle on half open wings and half extended legs with its bill on the ground - almost as if it was trying to coll itself down to make it's demise come sooner.
With the light fading fast and no sign of the hoped for Kingfisher we had to go before the car park was locked and so ended another excellent bird filled trip out with the 'Boiders'
Our last snap of the day was of a large fungus growing out of a Silver Birch trunk, Birch Polypore.
Roll on 36 hours and it's 2018. Happy New Year to all our readers, we hope it's a good one for you and filled with exciting wildlife.
With the new year starts another birding Year List and another Photo Year List Challenge with Monika and her friends.
The morning of January 1st was sunny and mild but as soon as we got out of the car at Marton Mere the clouds rolled in and heavy hail ridden showers ensued. We had a wander anti-clockwise taking in the feeding station and the caravan site side to get our Photo Year List Challenge started.
Grey Lag Geese
Treecreeper - a good one for the list on Day 1 as we struggled to find many in 2017
Bullfinch - arrghhhh! But still the best pic of this species taken at Marton Mere - must try harder - - or manual focus!
A couple of Carrion Crows watching over the wetland
Not the best start to the year, especially with that out of focus Bullfinch, but not bad given the awful weather and everything else we saw we'll be able to get pics of in better conditions before too long.
We finished the day on 23 species for the year without putting much time or effort in - we put more in to staying dry and failed miserably!
Today we were relieved to find the camera had dried out without issue and that was despite having a waterproof cover on it! The rain was again heavy so we nipped out to the local waste depot to see if the Iceland Gull was about - it was, happy days!A grotty pic for #8 on our PYLC but acceptable given the dreadful weather.
We gave Monty a quick run on the nearby sodden field and picked up Grey Wagtail, flushed by mutt from a large puddle and then Common Gull - amazing that we were able to get Iceland Gull on our year list before this obviously much more common species of gull!
Driving past Stanley Park on the way back to Base Camp and lunch we spotted a few Tufted Ducks in the near corner of the lake bring up 31 species for the year.
Where to next? A we and windy promenade perhaps.
In the meantime let us know who's all blurry in your outback.